Cambodia’s trade strategy tackles skills gap to boost competitiveness

Feb 19, 2014

Buyers load up rice bought from farmers in Takeo province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Phnom Penh – Cambodia has released a new trade strategy which puts focus on the need to improve skills of the workforce to boost the country’s export competitiveness and job creation in the future.

Tackling skills gap is an urgent priority especially when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community in 2015 is nearing. The regional economic integration, coupled with up to 400,000 Cambodian youths expected to enter job market each year, will present not just opportunities but also challenges to the country, government and UN officials said during the launch of Cambodia Trade Integrated Strategy (CTIS) 2014-2018.

“This strategy will help us mobilize new technical assistance to address some of the new reforms we need to pursue. In addition, it will enhance trade sector competitiveness, create new and better job, increase income and reduce poverty,” H.E. Sun Chanthol, Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce, said in his speech at the event on Tuesday.

CTIS is the third update since 2001 when its predecessor, Diagnostic Trade Integration Strategy, was first unveiled. The latest version highlighted gains that Cambodia has made since then in using trade as an engine to drive economic growth and reduce poverty among its population. It said exports of goods and services grew in value from US$4.9 billion to US$8.1 billion – or a 65 percent increase – between 2007 and 2011. The share of exports other than garments and tourism during this period also increased from 18 to 29 percent. Chief among them are bicycles, electrical components, footwear, natural rubber, milled and paddy rice, cassava, corn and soybeans. 

But the strategy points to weak mid-level and higher skills required for more sophisticated production process as one of the key issues that hold back productivity gains and investment to enable the economy to move up the value chains.  

“For these reasons, it is important to address the gap between skills presently available in the workforce and the skills necessary for the present and prospective work place,” it said.

Skill upgrading through technical and vocational education training (TVET) and improving the quality of the education curriculum to meet the needs of job market are among the objectives in the strategy. Higher skill sets and quality education, it said, are crucial for boosting chances for getting better paid employments by both current job holders and new entrants in the labour market.

“Improved skills that allow Cambodians to perform tasks presently performed by foreign personnel will reduce the costs to enterprises and enhance their competitiveness,” it said.   

CTIS was produced under the leadership of Ministry of Commerce with the support from Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), a multi-donor programme to help least developing countries use trade to reduce poverty, Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and other development partners.

“Of all the priorities in the CTIS, the human capital agenda is particularly important. If Cambodians are to benefit from economic growth, human capital will be critical,” Ms. Claire Van der Vaeren, UN Resident Coordinator, said in her remarks at the launching event.